I’m giving up, mountain backroads of dirt, unhitched legs

Dear family and friends,

Clickbait! Yup, give me a hard time. But. But, there is some reality to what I am giving up. I am giving up on my plan to ride north to south across Colombia. There’s lots of reasons. There is the danger of getting near the Ecuador border. For some reason I keep getting these notices from the State Department telling me to stay far away from the Ecuador border because of the violence presently in Ecuador that is spilling over into the border towns of Colombia. So, there is that. And other bicyclists have warned me off as well.

Aside from the risk of dying at the hand of Colombia drug gangs is the attachment to an outcome. Starting to see a pattern here? If I were to want to traverse the country north to south the obvious route would be through the Magdalena river valley, in the middle of the country, between the two main mountain ranges. That would be extremely hot, lots of truck traffic and kind of boring. As I’ve stated earlier, I have found most enjoyment here in the mountains and these little mountain towns. 

I came across a quote yesterday that helped me explain this change to myself. “You know, at the end of the day, the summit is for the ego, but the journey, the journey is for the soul. And it’s that soul food in life that makes everything worthwhile” . (I looked up the original source and found several that claim it, so not sure).

The summit to me would be traverse the country, whereas the journey is what I’m finding and sharing in these blogs. 

Yes, originally, I wanted to say “I bicycled all the way from the Caribbean Sea to the Ecuador border. I was hot, bored and focused” , vs “ I get to see the small towns of Colombia and meet people and see how they spend their lives and also enjoy the beauty of the mountainous country”.

The magic of traveling by bicycle is that doors seem to open. I have never met so many people who want to talk and share and help. 

I also am finding that I really enjoy the country towns and people. They live close to the land, often very simply. I think I can learn a lot from them about what is truly important. 

When I was young, my parents subscribed to the  BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB. One book that showed up was Studs Terkel “Working”. It is a study on what kind of professions people have and what they think about them. Also, in 1968 the sportswriter George Plimpton went undercover as a football player for the Detroit Lions and actually played a down to get his story. It inspired the movie “Paper Lion”.  I have been curious about different work situations ever since, even driving me one summer to show up at the MANPOWER  institution where they place day workers on whatever job is available. Also, one of the benefits of being a business guide for thirty years; I got to see the inner workings of many businesses.

What a way to understand someone else’s perspective, to actually join it. I thought of Mr Plimpton when I borrowed the pedal cab a couple of weeks ago for a picture.

So, when I’m in these towns, I want to understand as much as I can, at my slow pace of travel, what is going on with the people. It is more fascinating to me than the bucket list of tourist attractions. Learning more of the language is helping for sure, as now I can have a brief conversation with people I meet.

Speaking of slow pace of travel, I stayed three days in Zapatoca to enjoy its beauty and serenity. I also had quite a “crisis of confidence” after my truck riding experience about my abilities to ride in the Andes. In walking around Zap (what we locals call it!), I wondered into a bike shop, told  them about my ride and they showed me all about bikes built in Colombia and how good they were and stopped work to discuss biking here. I told them I planned to ride to El Fuente next and they wrinkled their brows and asked where I planned on staying. I told them about the one hotel there (on Google) and as you might expect, they let me know it no longer exists, that I had to proceed on to Galan, a tiny town about fifteen kilometers further on. 

Note to self: Bike shops are the place to stop for local riding info.

I did ride out towards Galan. In advance I tried calling and texting the numbers of the two hotels on the map and got no response. With a population of 812, I thought there might be high chance of not getting a room on a friday night with only two hotels, both of which looked very small. Small it was, the tiny hotel I stopped at. The whole family helped me check in: mom, daughter and grandma. They had four rooms, two open, so I got the second last one in town (the other hotel appeared to be closed). Mom quoted me ten dollars for the room and another buck for lunch. Room  AND a deal. I was quite relieved as I was exhausted and not looking forward to the next 13 miles to Barichara, mostly uphill. Very basic, but I could relax.

The ride: All dirt, gravel and rocks from Zapatoca until a mile from Barichara.  I was glad for my wide tires and front suspension.Sometimes the soft dirt was very challenging, like riding through sand, where the front wheel would slide sideways. After a couple of hours of this it became natural. Amazing what we humans can get used to.

Almost no traffic, a motorcycle about every half hour or the odd farm truck. Silent except for the birds, cows, donkeys and dogs. Big vistas at every turn. I realized that I was a long way from anywhere, but could enjoy the riding challenge and the beauty. I felt isolated and that I should be fearful, but I couldn’t come up with why.

Uphill to Barichara, I expected a big challenge with the 2600 feet of elevation gain ahead of me. My heart rate stayed low as I cranked my pedals for about three hours over and over and my legs seemed to just go, driving me uphill steadily. I almost failed to notice that I was showing fitness, in the mountains, climbing steadily. It was as if my legs had their own mind and they unhitched themselves from my mind of inadequacy.

“ Fuck you” they seemed to say, “It’s about time we took over and got on our way”

Sending love,


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9 thoughts on “I’m giving up, mountain backroads of dirt, unhitched legs”

  1. Good thinking. If you’re not enjoying the journey, what is the point of the goal. Take your time and see some of the country, but do be careful to get to towns that have hotels. I remember one time in Mexico we got in to a little town late at night. We were exhausted and couldn’t find anything open except a bar. The bartender let us stay in his back room where he had a bed. Then he closed up and left. Very trusting. We always wondered what the bed was used for? But we got a nights sleep. People are nice wherever you go. But we learned a lesson about timing.
    Life is all about learning.

  2. Okay, now I’m really starting to get jealous—not about the hard work, but the bucolic countryside and friendly people, almost from another century. For all we’ve gained in modern society, we’ve certainly lost a lot too. Be safe.

  3. Well done, Charley! What an appropriate and wise decision to change your plans. Can’t wait to hear what direction you and your bicycle will be headed next. I remember in winter of ‘71 after gunkholing from Puerta Vallarta to Acapulco as crew on an authentic Chinese Junk, I decided to hitch hike to Tierra Fuego since “my” junk had to sail north to Portland. It was known in the fleet that I could use a sextant, and as I was being rowed across the anchorage with backpack and sleeping bag in the dinghy, another cruiser hailed to ask if I could crew with them to Costa Rica. From Costa Rica I went on with yet another cruising couple on their Jim Brown trimaran to the Galapagos and beyond. As my sister Donna loves to say “When God closes a door, He pushes you out a window.” Sending love, Hasse

  4. Quitting may have been the wisest decision of your life.

    Four books changed my life. Two are about Stoic philosophy. The third is titled “Quit” by Annie Duke.

    She starts her book by telling the story of two Everest climbers who went past a well-defined quitting time and died as a result.

    Her book is lined with stories about those who did and didn’t quit when they should have. You are a poster child for her next edition and to be commended for your wisdom.

    Thank you for generously sharing your adventures with your armchair fellow travelers.


  5. You know, Charley, I didn’t really care about going to Ecuador anyway.

    Wherever you go and take pictures, that has turned out to be real dang different from anywhere I’ve been and sure worth lookin’ at.

    So, where ever we’re going next, I want you to know that the pedaling has never seemed too difficult. Count me in!

  6. Really enjoying your journey Charley. Relieved to know you’re getting updates on the Ecuador situation and have other great options! I was struck by the comparison to summits. For me, capes have been “the summits of my sailing soul.” Your writing today made me realize that while you are gaining elevation, you’re not just going higher on mountains, but deeper. And the land and people, going deeper into you. Go legs! <3

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